Almond, lemon and berry cake

2 weeks ago, as I was going through my kitchen notes, a yellowed piece of paper fell into my hands. There was a handwritten recipe on it, written in that basic style that a cook uses only for herself. I am sure you know the style, just so much information that you – and only you – understand what the outcome should be. Almond meal, lemon juice and sour cherries were involved. A google search didn’t bring up anything similar, so I have no idea where this recipe came from – if you recognize the recipe below, please let me know, I’d like to give due credit.

With the prospect of a dvd filled late-afternoon in our cool, air-conditioned bedroom behind closed shutters (this July has been brutal in Rome), I dared the idea of turning the oven on. The kitchen was already terribly hot (no AC here), so I thought “in for a penny, in for a pound” and cranked up the oven.

Since I was born with the CFR-syndrome* (and because I didn’t have everything at home and there was no way I was going outside to the 44°C / 111°F heat), I made some changes. The cake turned out lovely and I have since repeated the success and even made some little tweaks. This is an uncomplicated cake with a surprisingly multi-layered taste – the almonds give a slight crunch and a nutty taste, lemon juice and powder make it fresh and underline the berry taste.

Almond, lemon and berry cake
source: a little yellowed out piece of paper, with some changes by me

prep: 10 mins
bake: 40 mins
cool: 10 mins

all purpose flour, 135 g
baking soda, 1 tsp (5 g)
almond flour**, 85 g
citrus powder***, 3 tsp (substitute fresh zest)
butter, 185 g
sugar, 200 g
lemon juice, 60 ml (I obtained that amount from 1 very juicy big lemon)
Vanilla extract, 10 ml
eggs, 2
berries, 125 g (any berries you have or even sour cherries)

Heat the oven to 180°C / 360°F, line a loaf cake pan with heat proof paper (with overhang!) and butter it liberally.

Mix the flour, baking soda, almond flour and citrus powder/zest. In a casserole type pan, mix butter, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla extract, let it completely melt and dissolve on low heat. Add slowly to the flour mixture and mix with a spatula to just combine. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until completely incorporated. Fill the (runny) batter into the lined and greased pan. Scatter your fruit on top – no need to push down, they will sink!

Bake for 40 minutes (a skewer should come out clean). If you are using frozen berries, it will take up to 20 minutes longer.

Take the loaf pan out and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. You can then remove the cake from the pan easily by just grabbing the ends of the lining. Eat at room temperature. Some whipped cream on the side is a lovely addition. Keeps in the fridge for at least 3 days (the longest we had some left over).

This is not a very fluffy cake, rather a bit on the dense and coarse side but not unpleasantly so. The size is just right to serve it to a couple of friends for coffee and maybe have leftovers for the next day. No one has been able to eat less than 2 slices!

* Can’t Follow Recipe
** so much better to make your own than buy: just pulse whole blanched almonds for 20 seconds in a food processor or similar. Some coarse crumbs are perfectly ok, it doesn’t have to be too fine.
*** Take an untreated, preferably organic citrus of your choice (orange, lemon, mandarine…), slice into really thin rounds and dry in the oven for a few hours at a low temperature with the fan on. When they are perfectly dry and crisp, grind them to fine meal / powder in the food processor. I made mine in the winter with perfect oranges and have been using it in pasta sauces and salad dressings. You can substitute fresh zest of the lemon you are using for the juice.

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Alchemilla, an Un-Italian Dinner (and some teething troubles)

picture via alchemilla website

Update: T. read this post and says it is too critical and negative. I definitely do not want this to be the message that comes across – I did love the food and the overall experience we had here! I just think that the little mistakes/shortcomings we observed are rather easily avoidable and would increase the positive feeling by so much more. That is why I was pointing them out, not because they were such a big, negative part of the experience.

Take a young chef with great ideas. Add charming family & friends. Spice up with a lack of money and cluelessness in customer relations, modern electronic communications and wine.

You get Alchemilla, a Roman restaurant where we ate exceptionally good (mostly!) and will definitely return soon.

The young chef Francesco Magiar Lucidi, named one of the baby-chefs of Rome, is 26 years old, has great ideas but maybe not just enough experience in important kitchens. His sister, an actress, is part of the service, the other waitress has piercings in her face. On the day of the reservation they change the advertised 9 courses to 7 without explanation and when asked send one that is worse than the offense – “…in order to not overwhelm the senses & speed up the dinner…”. They send out emails, which is rare enough in Italy, but these are mass emails with many addresses on “to”, no “bcc”. There is an insufficient and not carefully selected wine list, the recommendation is a red whereas white is the much better pairing with the menu on hand. Not one glass matches another in the whole dining room. The AC alternates between burning hot and freezing cold. The menu is also in English – or rather, pigeon English.

You get Alchemilla, a Roman restaurant where we ate exceptionally good (mostly!) and will definitely return soon.

During the dinner I had all contradicting feelings. I sat there eating great food, prepared with very good products; great ideas, some working out, some not; a service that is dear and charming but making unnecessary mistakes. I felt like giving them all a big hug, holding their hands and saying “It is gonna be alright. I understand. I see where you are coming from and where you want to go. I want to help you. Listen to me. Take some advice. You can be so much better.”

Lacking that, I will keep on going to Alchemilla. I will keep on supporting them as they (hopefully) learn. I will keep on eating great food. (I just wish I could organize their cellar; choose better wines, put together a wine-by-the-glass pairing.)

What we ate: (expect 7 to 9 courses for €36, “journey” (not menu!) of the week can be seen online)

* Extra-old parmiggiano cream with a forest-honey veil (a gelatinous sheet!), dried fruit, green apple, 25 year old balsamic vinegar – very subtle and nice play of aromas, very good!

* soft polenta with beurre noisette (brown butter), pecorino di fossa (pit-matured sheep’s cheese) and fleur di sel – delicate and comforting, great idea with the brown butter!

* Calamarata shaped pasta with puntarelle cooked in vanilla, red beets, anchovies and smoked provolone – weakest dish of the stretch, though the idea is actually great: taking the very Roman dish of puntarelle with anchovies sauce and warming it up, temperature and spice-wise, and combining with pasta. I think the pasta format and plating was wrong and the smoked cheese was out-of-place, too; the elements of the dish just didn’t come together – but definitely a great idea to play around with in my kitchen

* Meatballs made with Cinta Senese pork (from Sienna), wild greens and black rice (in sheet form!) – very good, the meatballs had a great seasoning.

* Pickled herring with yogurt, very young spinach and smoked salt – a very good idea gone wrong because the herring was way too salty and together with the extra sold became unedible

* Pork flank in sweet&sour sauce with marinated red cabbage – melt in your mouth meat with a lively and decisive taste – perfect.

* Dessert wine, honey (these two in the form of an ice-cream), orange (jelly) and chocolate (powder) – nice combination of tastes, though the honey taste was too strong for me – but that’s really just me.

10 Things in the Pantry

pickles

Tursu, pickles, a pantry staple in Turkish kitchens

I was reading through yesterday’s edition of Katha‘s “10 days, 10 lists” series (in German) as I stopped right in my tracks. In this post she writes about 10 things she always has in her pantry or fridge in Vienna, Austria. Moments ago I had already read Anke‘s list for her kitchen in Hamburg, Germany. And found it funny how different countries influence the very basics in our kitchens. So here are my 10 things that I always have in the kitchen.

1. Wine Ok, wine should never be in the kitchen (too warm!) except for its short stint in the fridge, but it is also unthinkable for me to eat without drinking wine, so it is on the list. Mostly Italian.

2. Pasta I live in Italy. Enough said? Ok, add to that: I am too lazy and dough-handicapped to make my own pasta. A mix of regular, organic, wholewheat, with egg, etc. At last count there were 18 different shapes in my pantry.

3. Risotto rice see above. Always Carnaroli, sometimes also Vialone Nano or Arborio.

4. Olive oil see above. Local and organic.

5. Butter This is not typical central Italian, but we just love it. On bread, for cooking (risotto!) and baking (bake something chocolate-y with salted butter and you’ll understand). Especially semi salted French ones that are very hard to get around here.

6. Guanciale So Roman, so unctuous, my secret weapon.

7. Garum, Colatura or sardine paste (aka something fishy). The Italian answer to fish sauce – more subdued, more elegant. Secret weapon #2

8. Olives Taggiasca, Gaeta or Sicilian.

9. Flour Regular. I used to say I am not a baker, but the last couple of years have proved me wrong. I do bake. Not bad either. I just don’t feel comfortable handling dough.

10. Canned tomatoes Italian, organic. In the winter they are better than fresh (especially after I saw the hothouses stretching to the horizon in Sicily) and give you a soup or a pasta sauce in 1 minute.

You might think where is all the fresh stuff? Vegetables, fruits, herbs? You can’t be living off of carbs and fats only! Well, we do eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, at every meal actually. But we always buy them fresh, seasonal and often very local (though not always, I admit) in the market – we go to a market around 5 times a week. So I don’t consider them things I stock in the pantry.

We also buy fish at the market, about once a week. We are not vegetarians (see 6 & 7), but a substantial piece of meat like a steak, roast or chicken etc. we buy only around once a month from our favorite butcher Annibale, often from organic and local, definitely happy animals.

What are your 10 things?

Menu For Hope is going on till the 25th of December – have you donated yet? Your chance to win great food & wine related items and feed the poor for only $10! My offer has the code EU23

Menu For Hope 6 – Donate and Win (a wine tasting for 8!)

mfh6_small

Update: Bidding just became easier! This nifty little form will help you choose your items and transfer it directly to the donation site – remember my code is EU23.

Menu for Hope is an annual fundraising campaign hosted by Chez Pim and a revolving group of food bloggers around the world.  For the past three years, Menu for Hope raised nearly a quarter of million dollars in support of the good work of the UN World Food Programme, helping to feed hungry people worldwide. We, food bloggers from all over the world, join the campaign by offering a delectable array of food-related bid items for the Menu for Hope raffle. Anyone – and that means you too – can buy raffle tickets to bid on these items. For every $10 donated, you earn one virtual raffle ticket to bid on an item of your choice. At the end of the two-week campaign, the raffle tickets are drawn and the results announced on Chez Pim.

Once again we’ve chosen to work with the UN World Food Programme. This year, we are supporting a new initiative at the WFP called Purchase for Progress (P4P). P4P enables smallholder and low-income farmers to supply food to WFP’s global operation.  We food bloggers understand the importance of buying locally and supporting our local farms, P4P helps do the same for farmers in low income countries around the world.  More on the campaign, the donation system and the programme we are supporting can be found here.

This year, I am again offering a bid-item:

hande_sommeliere

(EU23) My Italians wine tasting in Rome for 8! A great opportunity for wine lovers – beginner or expert – to get an overview of Italian wines, learning about and tasting 7 of them. Let yourself be guided by sommelière Hande (me!) through this fun and informative 2-hour tasting that gets rave reviews! Offer is valid for up to 8 persons, so gather your family, friends or colleagues and hop on a plane to Rome!

Small print: Tasting to be taken within 2010 and date to be arranged with vinoroma. No guarantee on exclusive, private date – there may be others taking part in the tasting, especially if your party is less than 8. Winner may not “sell” remaining places if his party is less than 8. Shipping N/A. Worth of bid item is (up to) €400 / $600 (for a group of 8), non-redeemable.

There are many food and wine related items out there that you can bid for. Over at David’s blog you can see the other bid items offered in Europe and at Alder’s vinography you can see other wine related items. For the master list of all bid items you can win with a donation of only $10, have a look at Chez Pim. And if you want to win the wine tasting in Rome, don’t forget to state EU23!

To Donate and Enter the Menu for Hope Raffle

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Choose a bid item or bid items of your choice from our Menu for Hope main bid item list over at Pim’s.

2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.

3. Please specify which bid item (EU23 for the wine tasting in Rome) you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per bid item if bidding for more than 1, and please use the bid item code.

Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a bid item of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02, so write: 2xEU01, 3xEU02.

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Italians Do It With Style

Cornetto alla crema

As I sit in the sun in front of my favorite café in the middle of Rome, sipping my cappuccino (very Italian) and reading the newspaper (very un-Italian), I hear the beggar who is standing in front of the door and holding out his hat. “Just 70 cents”, he is murmuring at everyone who is leaving, “please, just 70 cents”. Not just “some coins” or “1 Euro”, as one might expect. Why is he asking for exactly 70 cents, I wonder. The answer comes with the next bout: “I am hungry, didn’t have any breakfast yet, just want to buy a cornetto.”

70 cents can buy you 3 substantial sandwich rolls, with which you can get full for a whole day. Or one croissant, gone in a minute, but flaky, creamy and delicious.

Italians do everything with style.

All Roads Lead to Rome

SPQR

Sono Pazzi Questi Romani“, these Romans are crazy*; but still, we are going to Rome. Not on a holiday; we are going to Rome, we are moving to Rome, we want to live in Rome! For us, all roads all these years have led to Rome; the year in Liguria was a warm up, all the trips throughout Italy, all the food, all the wine, the training to be a sommelière; don’t you think all these roads lead to Rome? But still, everyone asks us, why Rome?

Gelato

Can it be the perfect gelato?

Cappuccino

Or the perfect cappuccino…

Cornetto alla crema

… with the perfect cornetto alla crema?

Zucchini Blossoms

Is it the perfect fresh produce in the markets…

Agretti

… that still bear surprises and secrets for us?

Cernia

Do we love the food in the trattorie…

Fish market

… or the chance to replicate it ourselves?

Scorpionfish

What?

Roman Wine

Can it be the wine?

Prosciutto di Norcia

Is it the Romans…

Cat

… is it the cats…

Monk

… or these “only in Rome” moments?

So many reasons, don’t you think? So, when we go to Rome at the end of this year, will you come with me?

* Although I do love the interpretation of Obelisk, S.P.Q.R. really stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus, “the Senate and the Roman People”.

 

The Truffle Extravaganza

Trattoria X

Trattoria X

Somewhere in northern Italy, there is a little trattoria. It is there since 1961, although the family and the restaurant business have been intertwined for a lot longer time. For years now, a couple of friends and ourselves, all led on by our friend M., whose parents are the discoverers of this little gem, have been making a pilgrimage to this trattoria once a year at the end of October, travelling over a thousand kilometers. Over the years we have seen the trattoria get bigger, nicer, a small hotel was added, the Lire went, the Euro came, and the foreigners, too. The only thing that stays constant is the quality of the food and the staff. We have travelled to this place on occasion for just one dinner, we had 3-day adventure trips including visits to very prominent wine cellars and two dinners (gasp!) at this temple, and we have combined these holy dinners with preliminaries at other restaurants, like this year at the Obauer restaurant in Austria. This trattoria is the bar every restaurant (including 3-starred ones) has to measure itself upto for many of us, being mentioned often during the course of the year and prepared for starting as early as June.

The reason for us to go at the end of October is the truffle. The white ones, tuber magnatum. Truffles seem to divide the mankind into lovers and haters, usually with not much space in between. Most people hate truffles (or they think so) because they had encounters with all the fake products which carry the name truffle. If you have the means, you should at least once in your life taste a real and fresh white truffle. A “truffle” pasta dish for 10 Euros is definitely wrong, because either it has the so called “summer” truffles or just some oil with fake truffle aromas. Truffles can’t be cultivated and grow wild, below the ground in some very special forest areas in France and Italy. There are some minor types that grow elsewhere (China, southeast Turkey). Contrary to the legend, in Italy the truffles are not sought using pigs or boars (who love them) because of the damage they inflict on the forests. Special truffle dogs are nowadays the truffle seekers best friends.

Unfortunately this year it hasn’t rained enough and the truffle harvest (or find, if you like) has been less than regular, sending the already horrendous prices through the roof, up to €6,000 per kilo. This we have suffered during our long awaited dinner, as well. Although we had less dishes than usual with truffles, at one point the trattoria went out of truffles, which had never happened before, and the prices had never been so high, either.

Are you ready for the ride? The menu on this evening consisted mainly of signature dishes we eat very often in this trattoria. Here we go:

Crema di verdura

We were welcomed with a shot of vegetable soup, studded with flecks of fried prosciutto from the region and drops of olive oil.

Carpaccio di branzino

A carpaccio of Loup de Mer, “cooked” by the acidity of orange juice and rounded up by thyme.

Lobster

A simple and fresh lobster, as I like it.

Calamari

Calamari with fried radicchio stripes for T., who can’t eat lobster.

Turbot terrine

A turbot terrine with anchovies and squash. Although I liked this a lot, this course was the least favorite of our table of 8.

Cep (Porcini) carpaccio

Carpaccio of porcini with shredded montasio cheese from the region, a dash of olive oil, black pepper and salt. That is all it needs.

Porcini in amore con prosciutto

Porcini and ham in love. You get slices of porcini au gratin and the smoked regional ham on separate plates and combine them yourself. This is a very simple but great combination and of course lives from the quality of the porcini and the ham, which is from a very famous producer.

Polenta with montasio and truffle

One of my three favorite dishes. The region as well as the trattoria are famous for their polenta, which is unlike any you have had. It is so creamy. Then there is the montasio cheese grated on top which instantly melts, the sauteed porcini on the side, and when the plate arrives your table, the waiter comes with the truffles and shaves it on the polenta (see below). Is there a better combination? I can’t decide between this preparation and the following two.

Truffle shaving

Our favorite waiter D. shaving truffles on the polenta.

Tagliolini prep 1 Tagliolini prep 2 Tagliolini prep 3

The homemade egg tagliolini soak up some butter in the pan before they are divided between the plates.

Tagliolini with truffle

And then again the truffle shaving. This is the most common way to eat truffles and I just love it. But the tagliolini in this case are worth the trip even without the truffles, this was just like a cloud and so delicious, the best pasta I ever had (and I have had a lot, having lived in Italy and what not!)

Tangerine sorbet

Before we got the last truffle dish of the evening, we got to refresh our palates with a very light, sweet and bitter tangerine sorbet.

Potato with an egg inside 1

I tend to say this is my favorite combination. A hollowed out potato, filled with an egg, covered with a slice of montasio cheese which bakes in the oven to perfection, till the egg is done but runny and cheese has melted. Some roasted salsiccia on the side and truffles shaved onto once the plate sits in front of you.

Potato with an egg inside 2

One more picture just because it is so beautiful. At this point, the trattoria ran out of truffles, so we didn’t get to eat the traditional risotto and the meat courses had to forgo this earthy flavor as well.

Buffalo

A buffalo steak for T. Others had a roast of wild boar and horse steaks.

Lamb chops

I had the lamb chops. Don’t you think the portion sizes in this menu are very small?

Torrone ice cream

Finally we start with dessert. The 8 of us had double plates of 5 desserts and shared them. This is the torrone ice cream with grappa. The best dessert of the evening, in my opinion.

Cappuccino

In Italy, you should never order a cappuccino after a meal. This cappuccino cream is allowed.

Chocolate cake

A little chocolate cake. Would have been better if it had come fresh out of the oven.

Coffee and vanilla mousse

A hazelnut mousse with two different fruit jellies I can’t remember.

Crepe

Crepe with pastry cream and chocolate sauce. This was T.s favorite, he ordered another plate just for himself.

Rum and chocolate

All good things must come to an end, on this evening with some rum and bittersweet chocolate.

One word on drinks: We started with a bottle of champagne and followed with 5 different white and red wines from the region. Not 5 bottles. If I list the wines you will get dangerously close to finding out which trattoria this is, and this we would like to keep for ourselves. Suffice it to say that they are among the best what Italy has to offer and at laughable prices.

For me, this evening was proof again that I am most happy in simple restaurants where best quality regional products are lovingly prepared in a very simple manner. This trattoria is still the measure of all things food and wine relevant for me.